by Rosie Thomas
Published by McArthur & Company
372 pages, 2000
Reviewed by J.M. Bridgeman
If you loved Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, skip this one. But if you usually read romance and feel up to tackling a bit of action/adventure along with it, or if you are one of London writer Rosie Thomas' millions of fans, choose White. There is the eternal triangle.
Finch Buchanan, Vancouver doctor, signs on as medical staff for a climbing expedition. Alyn Hood, a Welshman and Finch's one-time lover, leads the Mountain People, a group of climbers who just want to "do it." Sam McGrath, son of Mike, from Seattle, spies Finch in an airport and follows her to Katmandu. These three converge on the white triangle of Mount Everest. Who will summit? Who will get the girl? Who will die?
Man against nature; woman against man/men. These are familiar plots. The three main characters are interesting enough. However, you need a cast list to keep Finch's tribe of brothers or the other members of the Mountain People separate, especially when the writer throws in a Sandy and an Adam just to confuse things.
Finch's Vancouver is unconvincing. Place names are incorrect and she takes the "lift" to her office. We know what it means, but no one born and raised in Vancouver would say that. The settings all seem somehow irrelevant, mere points on the triangle of the map that have little to do with the development of the characters or the plot. They do reflect the diversity of origins typical of such expeditions. Are they also an ill-disguised attempt to expand the market to an international readership? Perhaps inadvertently, White shows how an international identity, a mutual interest that transcends national boundaries, is an indicator, suggestive of a relationship between rootlessness and shallowness.
Would professional climbers allow their concentration to be diverted by personal emotional upheaval? For the first 300 pages, I am skeptical. But then the climb is over and there are still 100 pages to go. White abandons the clichés of adventure and romance and follows the survivors home. Thomas shows them experiencing grief, coping with rehab and growing to understand themselves and others. She explores the motivations of adventurers who choose personal risk, who create life or death situations.
Why would someone prefer the pursuit, running after something, rather than turning around to face that from which he flees? Who has something to prove? Who prefers death to some of the alternatives? The triangles tumble into more interesting patterns, making these last chapters more engaging. I am glad I didn't abandon the ascent before I got far enough to appreciate its rewards. | October 2000